So the governments of the United Kingdom and Canada co-host an international conference on media-freedom in London, just as the British government is preparing to extradite the most historically significant journalist of our generation to the United States for lifting the lid on a dirty war.
Furthermore, the British Foreign Office refuses to grant conference-accreditation to representatives from media-organizations of whose editorial lines they disapprove, including Russian media-organizations such as Sputnik and RT, on the pretext that these organizations are involved in the propagation of “disinformation.”
Okay, we get it.
Contradictions as blatant as these cannot be explained merely in terms of “hypocrisy.” Something far deeper is happening. “Hypocrisy” is what is happening when a person simply ignores the contradictions between their own words and their own deeds. However, if a person is not even capable of cognitively registering those contradictions, then we should use a different term.
Interpersonally, we all have experience of encountering pathological narcissists and sociopaths, two overlapping but not identical groups. All sociopaths are narcissistic, but not all narcissists are sociopaths, although most demonstrate sociopathic behaviour-patterns to some extent or another. When you confront them with the contradictions between their statements, or between their statements and their actions, they almost never attempt to reconcile the contradiction, or to verbally defend themselves. In most cases, their reaction is to immediately slip into a state resembling catatonia. They usually become completely non-verbal. In some cases, their eyes may actually glaze over. Either that, or they just stare at you blankly.
This process of cognitive shutdown is a defence-mechanism which shields the real source of the pathology
– because the internal monologue either atrophied or never fully developed in the first place, the person is simply pathologically incapable of self-observation, or of experiencing embarrassment. Almost literally, they cannot hear their own (inner) voice. This in turn means that they cannot remember anything which they previously said. This is why they simply believe everything which they say in the precise moment when they are saying it, and then forget it immediately afterwards. No meaningful internal monologue means no memory.
So “a hypocrite” is a person who simply ignores the contradictions between their words and their deeds.
A pathological narcissist, on the other hand, is not even capable of cognitively registering the contradictions.
This is pathologically far deeper than “hypocrisy.”
For example, on April 11th, the day that Julian Assange was arrested by British police outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, the British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted the following:
“Julian Assange is no hero and no one is above the law. He has hidden from the truth for years. Thank you Ecuador and President @Lenin Moreno for your cooperation with @foreignoffice to ensure Assange faces justice.”
On Wednesday, Hunt delivered the keynote speech at the Global Conference for Media Freedom, in which he waxed about the need to protect journalists from persecution or legal harassment.
My point is not simply that the current British foreign secretary is either a pathological narcissist or a sociopath. That question, of itself, is not very interesting. The super-ego is not simply something which we embody or are equipped with on an individual basis
– the super-ego also operates on a collective, civilizational level. It’s something which we collectively internalize from our shared culture. Human beings are historically embedded animals, so the “I” and the “We” are always mutually interdependent nodes of consciousness. Subjectivity is always mutually interdependent with inter-subjectivity.
So the deeper point is not simply that this or that politician is a hypocrite, a narcissist or a sociopath. The deeper point is that the liberal ideological orthodoxy of the Occident today can absorb and normalize these kinds of blatant contradictions only insofar as the Occident’s collective, civilizational super-ego is itself at quite an advanced stage of decay. As early as the 1880’s, Nietzsche saw this hollowing-out of the European soul as an inevitability:
"What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism. This history can be related even now; for necessity itself is at work here. This future speaks even now in a hundred signs, this destiny announces itself everywhere; for this music of the future all ears are cocked even now. For some time now, our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end, that no longer reflects, that is afraid to reflect."
– Friedrich Nietzsche, 1887
Apart from the most grandiose level on which western liberal orthodoxy’s attitude to press-freedom is self-contradictory, the level of principle, there are internal contradictions on a whole host of other levels. In his keynote speech on Wednesday, Jeremy Hunt quoted from the 19th liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill’s most famous work, “On Liberty” (1857):
“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race… if the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if it’s wrong, they lose what is almost as great a benefit: the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error.”
But in that case, as per Mill’s argument, even if we believed that somebody was propagating “disinformation” (such as the British Foreign Office has openly accused both Sputnik and RT of doing), then it would still not be grounds for silencing them or excluding them from a discussion, because even “disinformation” would have a discursive, dialectical value in the revelation of truth.
However, there was another, even more basic contradiction between the content of Hunt’s keynote speech to the conference and the conduct of his own ministry. Hunt cited the time-honoured argument that we need media-freedom, primarily, for its instrumental value to holding governments to account. This argument also originates in the British 19th century liberal political tradition, exemplified by luminaries such as Mill. As per the classical liberal argument, the crucial social duty of media is to offer some level of protection from bad governance by holding governments accountable, and not the other way around. In short, we need press-freedom precisely because governments are not competent arbiters of “the truth.”
In that case, what makes the British Foreign Office think that it is competent to determine that RT, Sputnik or any other entity propagates “disinformation,” or to perform the administrative functions of a Ministry for Truth?
But you know that it would be futile to point these contradictions out to Jeremy Hunt. You know that he’d just immediately slip into a non-verbal, catatonic state. You’ve seen a million garden-variety narcissists just like him, so you know that they’re almost always incoherent.
In his keynote speech, Hunt itemized some of the places where press-freedoms needed to be protected
– Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Venezuela.
The usual suspects.
So the rights of journalists must be protected specifically in cases where those journalists operate as intellectual fifth columnists in the information-spaces of our geo-strategic adversaries. That is to say, we need to protect the rights of journalists internationally so that they can hold OTHER governments accountable, specifically the ones which our own government is not on good terms with.
But at home, the rules are different. At home, there is a Ministry for Truth, which arbiters the difference between “truth” and “disinformation,” and renders punitive decisions on the basis of that distinction.
Quite an interesting inversion of NIMBY-liberalism, perhaps a sign of what we might call “the kenosis of the European soul” which Nietzsche envisaged 130 years ago.